Experience the difference for Japan at JWC

(IRB.COM) Thursday 11 June 2009
By Rich Freeman
From Tokyo
Experience the difference for Japan at JWC
Japan's squad is made up entirely of students - Photo: Hiroyuki Nagaoka

Japan assistant coach Kenny Iwabuchi admitted following Japan’s narrow 29-20 loss to Samoa at the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009 that the real difference between the two sides was experience.

A point of view shared by Japan national coach John Kirwan, the former All Black World Cup winner saying that Japanese players mature later than those from the main rugby playing countries.

While the majority of the Samoan Under 20s play club rugby, the Japan players are all full-time University students, who only play outside their age-group during the odd training match against a corporate side.

Things were even more extreme in the opening match when the hosts were up against an England side composed entirely of professional rugby players.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Japan assistant coach and the country’s most capped player Yukio Motoki said before the game. “We are all just first and second year students and they are all professionals.”

It’s a situation, however, that is accepted as the norm in Japan, where only a handful of players have opted to miss out on a University education and join a Top League team straight from high school.

Putting studies on hold for JWC

Kenta Nakasone epitomises the Japan team. The 20-year-old is in his second year at the Faculty of Policy Management at Keio University and, like his teammates, has had to put his studies on hold while he represents his country.

“The University have been very good,” said Nakasone, who has started both Pool B matches to date for Japan. “They haven’t placed any restrictions on me and have let me manage my own time as regards what I do with my rugby and my studies.”

Nakasone comes from a good rugby stock - his father Hiroaki was a standout player at high school who was predicted would go on to play for Japan. However, he didn’t have as much success at University and upon graduating opted to pursue an academic career rather than join a corporate rugby team.

On leaving Toin Gakuen High School, Nakasone was expected by many to attend Senshu University, where his father is now the rugby coach, but opted instead to attend Keio University, which this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of its foundation and the 110th year of the creation of its rugby club, making it the oldest Japanese rugby club.

Despite admitting to being envious of the professionals, Nakasone said he has no regrets about going to University.

“There is no obligation to go to University,” he said. “Players can go straight to a company team from high school if they wish but I think this is a good way to improve my skill and ability. It’s a good step before becoming a professional.”